The challenges of digital nomad are numerous. Location independent individuals are facing more unknowns in their daily lives than regularities. Living abroad and trying to freelance or run an online business while traveling can prove rewarding, but also frustrating. Despite the glamorous Tim-Ferris butt-kicking lifestyle you might be imagining, the truth is this lifestyle takes a lot of discipline, know-how, and yes, even hard work.
This is one of the hardest things for digital nomads because of the utter lack of routine in our lives. Creating a daily ritual helps us with making fewer decisions and also creates some kind of normalcy in a mostly irregular life. I remember reading a Smithsonian article about Henry Morton Stanley, the British explorer. Remarkably, no matter what kind of destitute, deprived, or life-threating situation he was in on one of his expeditions in Africa, he would never fail to shave. This sounds extreme, but it maintained his sanity in the worst of times.
Your routine may be as simple as taking a certain time each day to make a cup of tea, take a shower, preforming a breathing exercise, do stretches, or a more complicated series of steps. Figure out what works for you.
Making fewer decisions helps maintain your focus and cuts down on distractions. I recently realized the power and importance of routine and decision making after reading this recent post from entrepreneur and status quo breaker Chris Guillebeau. He featured choreographer Twyla Tharpe who believes “the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions.” By not deciding the little things, you’re saving you decision-making power and creativity for your art: writing, photography, music, whatever. Have your routine, especially in the morning, already decided before you go to sleep.
Chaos and clutter kill creativity. Keep your work and living space clean and neat. Be organized. A clean immediate environment allows a clear frame of mind to preform your best work. We have this impression of a disorganized artist which some even glorify. Don’t believe it. Give order and tidiness a chance! This tip I picked up from writer and blogger Jeff Goins who frequently comments on clutter killing productivity and lowering the quality of art.
While it’s important to keep the physical space around you neat and clean, it’s also important for your virtual world to be just as organized. I notice if I get backed up on email and have lots of messages in my inbox, it creates a mental burden which drags me down. My focus remains on the work that has to be done and not on more important things like writing good blog posts, or making good travel experiences happen. Clear out you inbox and stay on top of your email. I learned these email tricks and de-clutterization techniques at ZenHabits.
I made the mistake recently of trying to order a flight ticket late at night in a noisy, smoky restaurant. I was tired and was just trying to accomplish one more thing before I retired for the evening. The date was correct but the month was wrong. I burned 25% of my monthly income in one click. No refund. I was too tired and couldn’t think clearly. Which brings me to the next point…
Because digital nomads don’t always have reliable internet and because we’re traveling many of the days, there is a sense that while we do have internet, that we must do as much as possible. In theory, this makes sense. But in my personal experience, all this does is make me physically and mentally tired. Limit yourself to an 8-9 hour work day and spend the rest of the time resting, taking a walk, being entertained, or exercising.
Nearly everyone will tell you to make lists. It’s a way to make sure we’ve stayed on task and done everything we set out to accomplish during the day. The secret is to put less on your list than you think you can do. That way, you finish what you set to do and you can feel good. Hopefully you’ve got time to do more bonus work. I used to try to be more ambitious and consequently put too much on my list. At 10pm I’d be disappointed and frustrated that I didn’t get all my daily tasks finished. Try Wunderlist to keep track of your tasks.
I know some people say “I work best late at night” because I used to be one of those people. The truth is you don’t want your mind running a thousand miles per second the moment before going to bed. Cut off from the computer at least an hour before you want to fall asleep. Then read a book, watch a film, listen to an audio book, or relax before bed.
I first read this tip from lifestyle design and life-hacker Maneesh Sethi. It’s a great way to start the morning, wake up your body, and get rehydrated after sleeping. Then about a year later, at a Kathmandu yoga retreat, an Ayurvedic doctor offered the same advice: Wake up, drink a big glass of water before you do anything else, then go immediately to the toilet. It works. Try it.
Every body and mind is different, but this is excellent advice that I first read about from digital nomad Christine Gilbert (although she recommended 10am). She outlined the steps for creating your own writer’s retreat. Writer’s retreat or not, cutting the caffeine immediately after lunch (or before if you can) is a great way to make sure your mind is calm and ready to rest at bed time. Caffeine is my drug of choice and day after day it has an enormous effect on my body. Limiting your alcohol intake is beneficial as well.
Coffee is food for the brain. As I’ve always said, “coffee is good for your brain, bad for your body.” I love coffee. I like how it tastes, I like how it smells, I like the way it makes me feel. But more than two cups (of strong coffee) per day and I’ll more than likely suffer from anxiety. Feeling anxious is not going to help my productivity. You may even try experimenting with no coffee.
My mind has fewer distractions first thing in the morning. Most likely yours does too. Less distractions means better focus for me. That’s why writing (and no Internet!) is good in the morning. I’ve also been experimenting with yoga and meditation in the mornings and I’ve noticed that my mind is still focused for a long period of time after that. Save email and other monotonous tasks for later in the day when your head is more cluttered.
*Thanks to Juno Kim for the photo, taken in the desert of Rajasthan, India